Model Cars Posts

Sinclair’s Auto Miniatures – a trip to the beginning of diecast collecting

Musings By Joschik
Christian Braun obsesses over collectibles, antiques and toys more than the average person, but (he believes) in a productive way. Diecast was a special area of interest ever since he helped his brother write a book about Siku Model Cars in 1987.

When a former team member called and asked for some help to sell her late father’s collection we were only too happy to help (I wrote an earlier article on how to best sell a collection).  When she then arrived with 20 boxes of amazing models I was glad we offered help, her father Jim just had an amazing collection,  see for yourself here.  But what really excited me was all the paperwork that she had.  And the best were catalogs and other items from Sinclair’s Auto Miniatures!  Since moving to the US and when meeting older diecast collectors I heard so much about Dave Sinclair and his store in Erie, Pennsylvania.  Way before the internet, his catalog was sent to 30,000 collectors around the world and he had the most amazing selection!

Check out for example his 1971 catalog  –

I was looking for the dress in the catalog as it is going very well with that Pocher Fiat

 

I had (and loved that) that Märklin Porsche 907

 

… and wanted to some Mercury Models with all those opening features!

 

Friends and I spend hours driving that Cadillac DeVille from Schuco back and forth (damn, why did I not keep it in its box)

 

You had to fill this out by hand to order! But at least you got a FREE decal with an order over $10…  Also, do not forget to lick the gummed flap to seal the form.  When did you do that the last time?

 

And then just fold the form in and send it in.

 

Dugu & Ziss!

How much I wish to go back in time to join Jim for a visit to Dave’s store in Erie.  And I wouldn’t even cost that much money!  Check out this letter from Sinclair’s with the then new Corgi Toys James Bond’s Aston Martin for $3.50!

Toy Hunter Phil Chapman Lends Tinplate Expertise to hobbyDB Advisory Council

Phil Chapman Toy HunterYou might not expect someone who was a child in the 1980s to be a serious collector of tinplate toys. Phil Chapman, aka “The Toy Hunter,” defies that idea. We at hobbyDB are glad to have his extensive expertise as a tinplate toy collector as a new member of our Advisory Council.

“The main focus on my collection is tinplate toys,” he said. “Any size, age or brand mainly focusing on vehicles like car, trucks, bikes & tractors. What appeals to me about tinplate toys is the cars & trucks are so well built just like miniatures of the real vehicles of the time, & with clockwork mechanisms to make the toys move is just fascinating.”

In the collecting world, he is known as the “The Toy Hunter.” He picked  up that monicker after being inteviewd by a newspaper and a TV station, both of whom referred to him by that nickname.’The name just stuck, and people at toy fairs that seen me on TV  said ‘you’re that toy hunting guy!’”

To that end, he can be found on Facebook as “Phil Chapman Toy Hunter

Phil, who lives in the small town of Liskeard in Cornwall U.K, started in collecting tinplate toys about twenty years ago. “After owning a full size vintage tractor & motorcycle & not really having the room to store them, I soon realized collecting tinplate toys was just as interesting,” he said. “So the tractor and motorcycle went, and collecting toys started.”

His childhood featured a different kind of favorite toy. “My favorites growing up in the 1980’s were my A-Team figures,” he said. “Every Saturday evening watching Hannibal & the team getting themselves out of another situation to save the day! And yes I still have all my original figures plus the baddies!” he laughed. “I also have alot of early plastic toy vehicles, as the age of plastic took over from tinplate & batteries replaced clockwork motors, Phil said. “It shows how times were changing.”

tinplate tractor

Chad Valley Fordson Tractor from Chapman’s collection

Phil Chapman Toy HunterPhil is willing to share his toys, although not to play with. “All my toys are on display in Liskeard Museum,” he said. “It is one of the largest tinplate toy displays on show in Cornwall. With twenty years experience specializing in tinplate toys, we get many visitors from all over the UK either just wanting to visit the museum or looking for help identify a tinplate toy.”

He is also in the process of sharing his collection via the database at hobbyDB. His collection and expertise are extensive, and his sense of enjoyment of the hobby is what we’re all about.

Odd, Obscure, Out-of-the-Ordinary: 10 More Unusual Model Car Brands

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Over the past couple of years, we’ve shared some brands of diecast vehicles that are off the beaten path, obscure, or just plain odd. Some of them are offshoots of famous brands, some of from other countries and never widely distributed worldwide, and some disappeared quickly for various reasons. Some of these unusual model car brands have strange histories, some occupy weird niches, and some of them make really exquisite models. What they have in common is that you haven’t heard of most of them… until now.aurora vibrators

Aurora Vibrators

The original early 1960s Aurora slot cars were slow, and not really ideal for racing. And they emitted a loud buzzing noise, resulting in the name “Vibrators.” Yikes! In the mid 1960s, the company upgraded the chassis for performance with faster engines and wider tires (which sometimes required cutting a bigger fender opening on older castings. And despite the loud name, the new ThunderJet chassis was also much quieter.

AJ’s Race Savers

aj's race saversSpeaking of slot cars, AJ’s was best known for their accessories and “hop-up” kits to make your cars perform better. They created their own segment of slot vehicle, however, with the Oscar Track Cleaner. These were futuristic street cleaner designs that actually functioned to clean the metal electrical rails in the tracks. The design was expanded to add ambulances and other trackside vehicles. Neat and clean!

Maxwell Toys

maxwell toysVehicles from this Calcutta brand fell into two categories: crude knockoffs of other diecast brands like Matchbox and Tootsietoy, or crude original models inspired by other diecast brands. There is something sadly funny about the ill-fitting, weirdly proportioned parts that makes you want to give them a home. Also, the box art is pretty great across the board.

Fine model

This was a curious brand from Japan… Every modestly detailed 1/43 car they made appears to be a sedan shape. No fastbacks, convertibles, wagons, trucks. Just sensible, Japanese sedans. Nothing fancy. Just, well, Fine.

Kawabata Kikaku

Kawabata Kikaku mazda cosmoLike Fine Models, this company made only models of 1/43 JDM vehicles. Unlike Fine, they were a bit better detailed and had a lot more variety, including sports cars, wagons, ragtops, and even a nice miniature of the legendarily strange and wonderful Mazda Cosmo.

Nakajima Dreamcar

Nakajima DreamcarAnother obscure Japanese brand, this company thought outside the box. Their niche was fantastic concept cars like the Ferrari Modulo or the Fiat Abarth Coupe 2000. These are cars that largely don’t exist from other diecast companies, so they are rather unusual.

Amaze-A-Matics

hasbro amaze a maticsIn the late ’60s, Hasbro produced “The Fantastic Car with a Brain.” These models were propelled by a drive system similar to an old computer punch card that dictated when the car would turn, stop or back up. The first batch included an early GT-40 and three very rare American concept cars. In fact, this might be the only model of the Buick Century Cruiser show car ever made. Later models (a Dune Buggy and a VW Beetle) were designed for customization including larger rear wheels and other features. These were released as Computacars by Mettoys in the U.K.

Wiz-z-zers Spin Buggys

This was a spin-off from another toy… literally. In the early ‘70s, Mattel created a line of gyroscopic spinning tops called Wiz-z-zers. Instead of the old method of pulling a string to spin the top, these had a built in friction motor with intense gearing that would let them spin for a really long time when revved up on that delicate hardwood floor. (Sorry Mom and Dad!) As cool as that was, the company also made the Spin Buggys (sic), a pair of vehicles that were motivated by firing up the top and dropping it into a hole in the roof so it engaged the rear axle for instant acceleration. You could choose from a blue funny car-esque model or an orange C-Cab delivery van. Both were made of thin, lightweight, flexible plastic, so while they moved quickly, they were also very delicate and few examples have likely survived.

The Essence Of The Car

essence of the carThis is a case where odd is beautiful. Imagine illustrating the most iconic features of a unique classic car in a few brush strokes… The Essence of The Car basically does that in 3 dimensions. These models are really abstract sculptures that use minimal shapes to unmistakably capture, well, the essence of a particular design.

Avon

avon mail jeepSure, you could give your 1970s man aftershave for Fathers Day or his birthday… but if that scented, burning liquid came in a car-shaped bottle, even better. Avon offered their wares in all kinds of shapes (including a mail box for the “First Class Male.”) But the most collectible were the vehicle based ones such as a Ferrari, Jaguar XKE, Corvette, and a U.S. Mail Jeep for that “Extra Special Male.”

Did you have any of these when they were new? Do you collect them now? Let us know in the comments!

Hot Wheels 50th Anniversary Special: Making History on TV

hot wheels history channel

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

In case you missed it Thursday night, The History Channel aired a one hour “Hot Wheels 50th Anniversary Special” with plenty of interviews, diecast images and video, and, well, history of the brand.

Larry Wood, who has been one of the principal designers for the brand since almost the beginning, had a lot to say. (“We weren’t even paying Barbie’s taxes,” joked Wood about the humble beginnings compared to Mattel’s other big brand.) So did Jay Leno, known for his very large collection of full size cars, but also an enthusiast of the smaller ones. And several current designers, who clearly enjoy their jobs more than most people ever will.

hot wheels history channel Some of the most compelling bits during the hour were the vintage commercial clips, with bombastic announcers and amazingly well-shot footage of Hot Wheels cars in action. If you’re a certain age right now (Hot Wheels’ 50 plus a few years to be old enough to have gotten in on the ground floor), those commercials were the voice of God, speaking directly to your 5, 6, 7, ten-or-so-year-old self.

Discovering that the oil crisis in the ‘70s threatened to kill the brand? A terrifying glimpse into a sad alternate reality. Finding out that the orange track started out as garage door seals turned upside down? Let’s just say a good part of your happy childhood was discovered by accident.

hot wheels history channel zarnockAside from Leno, the most screen time from a non-Mattel employee went to Mike Zarnock (“Hot Wheels Expert/Collector” according to one on screen blurb.) Zarnock, is of course, a legendary historian and ambassador for the brand. Seeing photos of Harry Bradley’s custom El Camino, which served as the basis for the Custom Fleetside was a blast.

According to professional Diecast customizer Chris Walker, “To make the perfect car, many cars have to die.” Really, as much as we like to protect and preserve our Hot Wheels, taking them out of the package and making them less than mint condition is what makes them so beloved. And if you can chop and reassemble them into something new, then you get to turn playtime into a career.

hot wheels history channel walkerZarnock and Walker originally didn’t expect to have as much screen time when first approached by the History Channel. “My role in the show initially was just going to be just to say a few words about Hot Wheels and the hobby at the Dallas Hot Wheels Nationals,” said Walker. “After talking with them and showing them on camera all about room to room shopping and what we do, they went  changed up the direction of things based on the chemistry of myself and Mike Zarnock.”

A lot of the show centered on the quest to design “HW50,” the car that is supposed to sum up the entire 50th Anniversary. Designed to be a  “statement of our heritage and our future,” the car is being built as a 1/64  model and a 1,000 HP running full-size replica. (Yes, the real car will be a replica of the model. It’s been done before, actually… ) The amount of 3-D CAD rendering used to design the car is both mind-blowing and a bit melancholy. Revealed in sketches and painted prototypes, HW50 looks to be a suitably retro yet modern car that should honor the legacy of the brand.

hot wheels history channel

This is about the best look you get at the HW50 until Fall.

As far as reliving your childhood through collecting, there are different takes on that. Walker, whose collection started with the Mach 5 inspired Second wind, but now owns over 10,000 Hot Wheels Cars said “A lot of people say collecting is our way of buying back our childhood. I say it’s more buying the childhood we never had.”

Expect the Hot Wheels 50th Anniversary Special to show up on The History Channel many times over the next few weeks, and also to make it online eventually.

hot wheels history channel

Penny Pinching, Processes and Practicality: Possible Pitfalls of Diecast Design

Matchbox cityWe recently told you the histories of Matchbox Senior Designer Steve Moye and Master Modelmaker Rob Romash, part of the talented team that created many of the brand’s model vehicles in the early 2000s. As much fun as they had working there, not every project goes through without a hitch. From misinterpretations to budget cuts to secretive licensees, here are some of Moye’s more interesting stories about projects that ran into an extra challenge somewhere on the journey from initial sketch to hanging on the pegs. We’ll leave it mostly in his own words…

Simplifying the Process

Matchbox Dune Buggy

The challenge with this Dune Buggy: use as few parts as possible.

How many parts in a diecast model? As many as it takes, right? In some cases, the company might dictate that a vehicle must be made of a limited number of parts regardless of design… “This 2003 Matchbox Dune Buggy was the result of an internal cost-cutting experiment, trying to see if it was possible to design and produce a marketable rescue-themed three-part vehicle (chassis, body, and interior… existing parts such as wheels and axles don’t count in that number). It was eventually adapted for use as a McDonald’s offering. We also were able to add a promotional Fire Engine and a Police Car for
McDonald’s, based on the three-part concept.””

Fighting for Extra Features

Matchbox garbage truck

A trash truck has to have moving parts, right?

Sometimes it takes extra effort and cost to make a working model, but in the end, the results can be worth the struggle… “This Trash Truck actually works as a pickup/dump vehicle with its own separate trash bin. It was a real internal battle to fight for the additional parts, and win, but the extra cost made this toy possible.

Battling Budget Cuts

Matchbox City Police Car

Some of the finer details of this model were lost in translation.

Sometimes management dictates a change to the processes that have worked for so long, resulting in a new learning curve… “In 2004, Mattel implemented some cost cutting measures by moving part of the design modeling process overseas. Issues surfaced early and often, when sources in Asia tried to translate sketches, orthographic and exploded views into Solidworks files. It took many back & forths in e-mails and telephone discussions for them to even be able to get us something that wasn’t ‘block-ish.’ I don’t dislike the final result, but….I’m also confident that had we involved Rob Romash  in the process, the final ’04 City Police Car -particularly the upper front fenders and other crucial areas– would’ve been much more to my liking.”

Meeting Marketing Demands

Matchbox ladder truck

Freed up from marketing demands, this fire truck turned out much better than previous designs.

Corporate management can sometimes make demands of a design that are hard to work with… “After an attempt at adding more kid-oriented, animated vehicles (a few of which I also designed) to Matchbox’s 3″ 1-75 lineup, some of us were able to convince management into getting our model shop back into the process. The last Matchbox Fire Truck embodied elements which I learned over the previous four years designing 3″ vehicles; plus, I wasn’t encumbered with trying to design vehicles with exaggerated ‘super-heroic’ width proportions.”

Being freed up from those demands led to some great work. “The result was what I consider to be my best non-licensed fire truck, and Rob did his always-superb job of translating my sketches into the final 3-D model and finished product. These models would eventually wind up as Matchbox’s last Mt. Laurel NJ-sourced products before the facility closed.”

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

Matchbox City Bus

The sides on the bus go ’round and ’round (unless they ended up being straight).

Some designs aren’t easy to produce with traditional modeling processes, resulting in unexpected compromises… “On this 2005 Matchbox City Bus model, the difference between what I proposed and what Rob carved out, (a bus with rounded sides and front end) and what Mattel wound up producing (flat sides) is huge. This major change was only discovered when the production City Bus hit the store pegs, long after Mattel Mt. Laurel’s closing.””

Copyright Complaints

Matchbox trash truck

An original design, but someone apparently thought it looked familiar.

Sometimes a design issue catches you completely off guard… “This trash truck was an original unlicensed design that shouldn’t have run into any issues. But apparently the rear crush area raised some questions with an original manufacturer of trash trucks. The design was eventually produced, however so they worked it out.”

Uncovering Corporate Secrets

Matchbox C6 Corvette

General Motors was secretive and (accidentally) very helpful with this ‘Vette.

Sometimes a licensed design is the subject of cloak and dagger work. You have the permission of the licensee, but they are only able to help you so much… “The last licensed vehicle I was involved in was Matchbox’s 2005 Corvette C6. The big problem: because of secrecy issues, GM was loathe to submit detailed information to us! Their 3D files were as vague (blobs!) as I’ve ever seen, almost unusable. So, I was forced to gather as many ’05 ‘Vette magazine ‘spy shots’ as I could find, do my best to draw them up, and take them over to Rob Romash to make a plausible 1/64 model. Given what we were and weren’t given, Rob did a fantastic job, in a rush situation, making a C6 model that GM reviewed and easily approved.

Every now and then, luck smiles on the designer in such situations, however… “Towards the end, GM mistakenly sent us a 1/18 scale Hot Wheels prototype of the same ‘Vette! Having that at our disposal allowed us to add an accurate underneath chassis, and to double-check the exterior details which Rob and I discerned. Amazingly, Rob only had to tweak a few minor areas before painting and submitting the final 1/64 scale model.”